Lahore High Court’s Verdict: Domestic Workers’ Rights and International Law
Recently the honourable Lahore High Court gave its verdict that there must be legislative measures adopted by the provincial government of Punjab for the protection of the rights of domestic workers in domestic household. Appearing on behalf of a domestic worker, Subay Khan, I argued before the honourable Lahore High Court that after the eighteenth amendment and the abolition of concurrent list, the subject of labour has been devolved to the provinces and therefore it is the provincial legislature which must adopt legislative as well as administrative measures regarding the notification of wages of domestic workers at par with workers in the industrial establishments doing work of a similar nature.
Another important aspect of the case was that the vires of Minimum Wages Act 1961 was challenged on the basis that the provisions of the said Act apply to the workers doing domestic work in the industrial establishments but it does not apply to the workers doing work of a similar nature in domestic households. When wages of workers doing domestic work in the industrial establishments are being notified by the Government of Punjab then how come the wages of the domestic workers doing work of a similar nature in domestic households are not being notified.
The court also took cognizance of the Domestic Workers Convention 2011 which states that the every state should notify the numbers of hours and wages and standardize the working conditions of the domestic workers. Unfortunately the Government of Pakistan has not ratified the Domestic Workers Convention. An interesting question before the honourable Lahore High Court was whether the said international convention has a binding nature despite not being ratified by the Government of Pakistan. Relying on the Supreme Court’s landmark judgment, PLD 2014 SC 305 (the famous missing persons’ case), the Court concluded that the international convention, although not ratified, can still be relied upon in order to meet the ends of justice.
At this juncture of proceedings, the provincial government gave an undertaking that it would initiate Domestic Workers Policy 2016 under which the wages of domestic workers would be notified. Moreover, it would take appropriate legislative as well as administrative measures to enforce the fundamental rights of the domestic workers. This is a major breakthrough because there are hundreds of thousands of domestic workers who are indulged into long working hours and are paid less than the workers doing work of a similar nature in industrial establishments. Recently a protest was also lodged by the Domestic Workers Union at Mall Road Lahore. So this is a landmark verdict by the honourable Lahore High Court, considering the fact that wages of domestic workers not being notified by the government, was against the dignity of domestic workers and was also in violation of Article 9 of the Constitution (which covers every aspect of life). Hence this petition in public interest has borne fruit and followed the principle laid down by the Supreme Court that international laws can be relied upon, even though not ratified, in order to meet the ends of justice.
The writer appeared as counsel on behalf of the petitioner, a domestic worker, in this case and the decision was enunciated on 9th December 2015.